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Specialised railway policing put at risk by Scottish Government

06 September, 2016

British Transport
Police Federation
September 06, 2016

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Speech by Alex Robertson, BTPF Chairman,
to London Members of the Federation

Chief Constable, guests, colleagues, you are all very welcome. It's been some years since the BTPF has organised a London Open Meeting. Many of the issues are still the same, so you could be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu about some of them.

But there are other new matters which cause us concern and some of the old hardy annuals have seen some positive developments.

First, Chief Constable, I am particularly glad that you have agreed to address the meeting and in doing so, if not set to rest all of our concerns, at least we will have a useful exchange of views.

I would like to begin with a plaudit for you. The Federation campaigned for some time on the vital issue of officer safety. We have called for knife protection vests and most recently we have pressed for the introduction of CS Incapacity Sprays. You Sir have demonstrated that unlike many senior officers across the police service, you have not lost your understanding of what it is like to be a frontline officer on patrol facing violent and frequently deranged thugs. We are grateful that you cut through the bureaucratic nonsense and that CS Sprays are now routinely available to us.

I would not say that there the good news ends but I do certainly have several items to put before you. I know that on some of these we are both the potential victims of third parties such as Government and Transport for London and that we share similar views.

The British Transport Police is at long last being properly recognised as having a central role in defending the public against terrorism. Following the 11 September it is clear that we are dealing with one of the most unpredictable and insane terrorist organisations imaginable. Their activists actually welcome death as martydom and regard the incidental loss of civilians as a bonus. Military success in Afghanistan is welcomed but the nature of these terrorists is that their desire is for spectacular atrocities and the more bizarre the better.

The BTP is second only to the London Met in the number of terrorist incidents that we deal with. Even the recent bomb attack on Birmingham, while it was not directed at the railway station, nevertheless our officers were in attendance. The railway systems, its lines and stations are particular favourites for terrorism because attacks on them produce anxiety and frustration among thousands of ordinary people simply trying to get to or home from work.

The Bin Laden threat, of course, comes on top of the enduring Irish Republican Army threat now expressed through the Real IRA. In each case the threat comes from the activation of sleepers who have created an anonymity for themselves. Our railways are vulnerable and so is the Underground system. The attack on the Tokyo metro system a few years ago would have been far worse if the Japanese terrorist cult had known how to disperse the sarin gas among travellers to maximise the casualties. It is not too outlandish for us to consider that with this new and more aggressive terrorism from Al Quaeda, that all eventualities must be considered and the specialist knowledge of this Force is invaluable.

Our ability to combat terrorism and crime is being enhanced by the legislative moves to extend the jurisdiction of the BTP. The extension is quite modest but at long last it means that BTP officers are protected by the office of constable when required to intervene in a situation where the law is being or about to be broken.

Unfortunately it took the events of 11 September for the Government to see the light. The fact that there has been no serious objection in Parliament to the extension proposals can be attributed to the fact that our campaign has been running for nearly ten years. We made a major advance at the England and Wales Police Federation Conference when a supporting resolution was overwhelmingly passed by the delegates.

We owe an enormous debt to Will Parsons of the City of London and Glen Smyth of the Met for the courage they took in addressing the issue head on and moving the motion.

If ever anyone needed an example of what comradeship meant in the police service, then that was it. Our officers stand shoulder to shoulder with the City and the Met officers helping each other act at public order confrontations or at single arrests. Effectively we are London's third police force. Last May at Conference that interdependence among policing was acknowledged.

The arguments for the modest extension are fully appreciated by the police service and by Government. They must press ahead and get the legislation on the statute books urgently.

Another move which would help the security of the nation's capital is a re-appraisal of the proposals by Transport for London to introduce a £5 congestion charge. Given that we are railway police officers, the Federation is naturally sympathetic to measures which will encourage the driving public to use the public transport system, particularly the railways and the Underground.

But that should not be the introduction of measures which have so serious and detrimental affects on those of us who provide vital support services which enable London to function. We have persuaded Transport for London that official police vehicles should be exempt but we are making little or no headway in their attitude to unmarked police vehicles or private cars being used on police business.

They are introducing a major disincentive to officers to work in central London. A charge of £5 a day to get to work when you are providing an essential service is ludicrous. The object of a congestion charge, or any other such traffic limiting measure, is to persuade people to do their business elsewhere…to set up their offices or to provide their services where it is not congested. This is not an option which is available to the police. We cannot relocate; we must be where we are needed. The only people who will relocate will be our officers…to other police forces such as Thames Valley, Essex orKent.

Transport for London needs to take an overview of what it is trying to achieve. Is it in the business of easing congestion caused by unnecessary travelling in central London or is it trying to set up a sure-fire money raising scheme? At the moment it seems to my members that a more thought-out proposal would ease congestion but not punish police officers or other emergency services workers.

I want to also express concern on behalf of our officers based in Ashford in Kent. Police officers are fairly used to dealing with the seamier and less hygienic side of life. It goes with the less glamorous aspect of the job.

But the recent steady growth in illegal immigration has seen an equally steady rise in the exposure to health risks for our officers. Every day our officers face very serious problems. They include dealing with people who come from countries with diseases no longer known in Britain; they are either carriers or have mixed with people carrying infections and transmittable viruses and diseases. They are desperate people, many of them armed with knives to cut their way into lorries. By the time they get to Britain they will have been couped up in wagons without access to hygiene or sanitation facilities.

It is not only unpleasant to deal with these situations, tragic as they are for the illegal immigrants, it is unfair to the police officers who rightly must have concerns for their own health and safety.

This problem will only be addressed when we have a properly agreed policy dealing with the risk evaluation of this kind of policing work and proposals implemented to eliminate or at least reduce the exposure of officers.

Failure to act will see the Federation taking court action on behalf of the members. The problem has been thoroughly ventilated and should be sufficiently appreciated by management to justify the development and implementation of protection measures.

The Government's consultation paper on the BTP makes it clear that the BTP has a secure future. Our specialist skills are appreciated in most quarters and even the recent House of Lords debate showed a general understanding that we needed a separate police service for the railways, otherwise our specialist skills would be diluted within the Home Department Forces and then inevitably lost. But there is more to building up the prestige of this Force than operational independence. We must also offer a credible career structure to our young officers. They must see that the upper ranks are within their reach. Recent events, however, will have undermined that confidence.

A number of detective inspectors' and a chief inspector's posts have been filled in a manner which can only arouse suspicions about the fairness of the process. It is not appropriate to go into the personal details of these promotions in public. My concern is not with the people who were promoted; they will no doubt fulfill the requirements of the posts very well. My concern is entirely about the process.

We filled two of four detective inspector vacancies with retired detective chief inspectors from the Met. They finished one police career on a Friday and began with the BTP on Monday. Subsequently a vacancy came up for a detective chief inspector. Six internal applicants were interviewed. One of the ex-Metropolitan officers who had not applied for the DCI post was invited to apply, even though the application would have been outside the timeframe. He was interviewed and appointed.

I have to ask several questions here. With all due respect to those who were successful, are we incapable of providing adequately experienced officers to fill these posts from within? Is the Force failing to train its own officers up to a sufficient standard? Is the Force abusing the selection process in order to promote candidates who must have been pre-selected? And most important of all, what kind of message are we sending out to young officers about their career prospects?

The morale of officers is further undermined by the aggressive and unsympathetic attitude of Force Management to sickness among officers. Sickness levels are high, too high. The Federation understands the importance of bringing sickness levels down. It is crucial for the individual who is ill and for his colleagues who must carry the burden of the extra work falling on to fewer shoulders.

But policing the railways is a dangerous and stressful job. It takes its toll on officers physically and mentally. Malingerers need to be got rid off or else learn to pull their weight. Bullying tactics by management serve only to aggravate what is already a stressful situation. I was shocked at a recent seminar to hear supervisors propose covert police operations to spy on sick people. Sir, we have little enough available resources. We should not lose sight of our priorities but find a joint arrangement which meets the needs of management and our members.

Sickness is a management issue. It is perhaps one of the best examples of where it is crucial that the Federation is consulted fully and our views taken into account if we are to produce an effective strategy which restores individual and corporate health. In our eagerness to catch the few we should not override the welfare needs of the genuinely ill.

Our record on consultation is not good and perhaps, Chief Constable, there are faults on both sides. But it is not what either of us want for the Force. We must work harder to make consultation genuine rather than perfunctory and to see policies welcomed rather than imposed and above all to build the reputation of this Force.

The debate in the Lords showed that some Lords remained as misinformed as ever and that further dialogue would be useful. Generally, the other contributions indicated strongly how well the Government and the political parties regard the BTP. The Report of the HMI was a professional endorsement of our professionalism. Let us now work to let the internal mood of the Force match its external reputation.

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